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January 04, 2007



Jean Renoir - 1935
Eureka! Region 2 DVD

I've been making a point of seeing Jean Renoir's films as they have become available on DVD. While I have seen several of his films theatrically, I have only recently begun to truly appreciate Renoir's work. The turning point may have been a few years ago when I attended a screening of La Marseilles and marvelled at the interactions between characters in a lateral tracking shot. I understood that to create such a shot required a lot of planning and coordination between the technical crew and the actors. What makes Jean Renoir different from someone like Ingmar Bergman or Andrei Tarkovsky, is that Renoir's style of filmmaking usually doesn't call attention to itself or the act of directing.

While I liked Toni, I've been thinking about it more in terms of how it influenced Renoir's assistant, Luchino Visconti. In their commentary track, Philip Lopate and Kent Jones note that Renoir encouraged Visconti to film The Postman Always Rings Twice. With Toni, one can see the seeds of both Ossessione and La Terra Trema.

Some of Cain's characters are similar to those in Toni in that they are poor, working people living hard-scrabble existences. While Lopate and Jones mention the similarities of plots, with the love triangles and murders, neither mentions that Cain wrote about Okies and people like those in Toni who either travelled to find work, or like the diner owner in Postman and the uncle with the small vineyard in Toni have achieved modest dreams working for themselves rather than an exploitive boss. As in Cain's novels, most of the characters in Toni are looking for better lives for themselves, and are involved in questionable relationships based on emotional, if not financial, gain.

Like Toni, La Terra Trema was filmed on location, is about the working poor, used non-professionals as actors, and has a narrative about a worker seeking a way to work for himself instead of being an abused employee. Much has been written about how Toni influenced the creation of Neo-Realism. It is because of the Sicilian location shooting and casting of non-actors that I feel that La Terra Trema could not have been made had Visconti not worked on Toni. A quote from Visconti about a very different film, the elegant Death in Venice could easily apply to the film he worked on as an assistant: "I prefer to tell stories of defeat. I have a soft spot for lonely souls and destinies beat by reality."

Posted by peter at January 4, 2007 06:21 AM


"I prefer to tell stories of defeat. I have a soft spot for lonely souls and destinies beat by reality."

That quote reminds me of a Q&A session I went to last year at the opening of Alkinos Tsilimidos' Em 4 Jay. He mentioned that he's not interested in stories of the middle class, but rather about people who have given up on the world or the world has given up on them.

Posted by: Paul Martin at January 4, 2007 05:55 PM